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Bangi Gustav 

Crises in European history 


^rises In 
European History 

ranslated By 



ablis'hed 1916 By 

[ational Executive Committee 

»ocialist Labor Party 

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Crises in European 

Gustav Bang 

Translated from tlie Danish by 



Putlished 1916 by 
National Executive Committee 

Socialist Labor Party 

45 Rose Street, New York 


Copyright, 1916 

National Executive Committee 

Socialist Labor Partj^ 


In every historical epoch, the pre- 
vailing mode of economic production 
and exchange, and the social organ- 
ization necessarily following from it, 
form the basis upon which is built 
up, and from which alone can be ex- 
plained the political and intellectual 
history of that epoch.— KARL MARX 


Gustav Bang'l work, "Crises in European HlstbTy" ("Bryd- 
ningstidcr i Europas HistOrie"), was first published serially in 
the Daily People during 1909-10. As an economic interpreta- 
tion of three important crises in European history it is perhaps 
one of the best, considering the brevity of the work. Dr. Bang 
here employs to the best advantage the Marxian key, and suc- 
ceeds in unravelling what to the average reader usually appear 
to be mysteries or near-mysteries. As the author explains in 
his introduction, the motive power of historical changes is to 
be found in the economic basis of a given society, in the meth- 
ods of production and exchange peculiar to that society. To 
put it in this manner is, of course, to lay oneself open to the 
charge of teaching that that economic basis, and nothing else, 
influences the historical processes. Dr. Bang, however, in the 
concrete examples chosen furnishes ample evidence to show 
that while that undoubtedly is the chief, and in the long run 
the really important factor, the line cannot be drawn too 
sharply between cause and effect, seeing the effect frequently 
reacts upon the cause, stimulating it and aiding in accelerating 
(or retarding temporarily, as the case may be) the historical 

The publishers have felt that the work deserved a wider 
circle of readers than was possible through the Daily People, 
and for this reason present it to the English speaking working 
class in booklet form. 

Since this work was first publisheid Dr. Bang has passed 
away. His death was a loss to the International movement, 
especially at a time when all the clearest and ablest men in 
that movement were needed. 

Gustav Bang was born September 26, 1871, in a small pro- 
vincial town in Denmark. He died on January 31, 1915. His 
fether was a minister, who also acquired a considerable rcpu- 

tation as a historian, and it was from the father that young 
Bang imjbibed his love of history. 

He became interested in the Socialist movement at an early 
age and continued his activity in the movement for twenty 
years, i. e., until the time of his death, delivering lectures, com- 
piling statistics, writing for the Danish party organ, etc. Like 
most men of his character and learning Bang was a tireless 
worker and a prolific writer. Other works by him, besides 
the present one, are: "The Rise of Capitalism"; "The Socialist 
Republic"; "Cultural History of Europe"; "Georgeism," and a 
number of smaller and larger works. Aside from occasional 
articles translated for the Daily and Weekly People nothing 
outside of the present work seems to have been translated into 
English. More should, and undoubtedly will, be translated in 
the future. 

Dr. Bang was a quiet and unobtrusive man, unassuming al- 
most to the point of self-effacement. And like most scholars 
he was totally devoid of vanity. Though he has added nothing 
to the fundamental principles of sociology and economics, he 
has done m(uch to make these principles, i. e., the principles 
of Marxian Socialism, better known to and more easily under- 
stood by a large circle of working class^ readers. For this he 
deserves a niche in the hall of fame of International Socialism. 

A. P. 


Looking back over the history of the human race, one per- 
ceives a steady development, an uninterrupted chain of fun- 
damental changes in all social relations. The political and 
juridical institutions, the intellectual culture, the customs and 
habits, moral concepts — in fine, everything which conjointly 
forms the common civilization of a given society is in a con- 
tinuous process of change — birth, growth, development, de- 
cay and final supplanting by new forms. We not only live 
differently in the age of factories, railroads, telephones and 
automobiles than did our grandparents, but we also think and 
act quite differently; we are absorbed in entirely new inter- 
ests, guided by new ideas, fighting for new aims. Times are 
changing and people change with them. What a span of de- 
velopment lies not between the mighty modern manufacturer 
and the modest master craftsman of the Middle Ages; and who 
can measure the chasm which separates the culture of our 
time from the way of living and thinking of the man of the 
Stone Age? 

The history of the human race, accordingly, forms itself as 
a steady development, and a succession of great periods in 
this movement are to be distinguished. Grasco-Roman anti- 
quity has its peculiar aspect; the Middle Ages and our mod- 
ern time theirs. But the movement does not proceed forward 
smoothly and imperceptibly; from time to time violent clashes 
occur — catastrophes during which the old culture is destroyed 
and a new one is seen to appear. These crises, however, do 
not come as a bolt from a clear sky; a close observation of 
the movement in the preceding epoch will show how the rev- 
olutionary periods are gradually formed, how new forces ap- 
pear and gain in strength until they finally burst the existing 
social relations. It is further seen how each revolutionary 
crisis itself forms the beginning of a new period of evolution, 
which again in the future leads to new catastrophes. The his- 
torical process of society is thus effected by a change of 
epochs with an even and steady development, and scenes of a 
violent and stormy character — but these two forms of evolu- 


tion do not stand In opposition to each other any more than 
the "revolutionary" act of childbirth is in opposition to the 
slow growth of the embryo in the mother's womb. 

What, then, is this ever-acting force which produces the 
historical process of transformation? The solution to this 
riddle was given more than half a century ago by the great 
Socialist thinker, Karl Marx. 

Marx found that the fundamental cause of the historical de- 
velopment in social and intellectual life was to be sought in 
the changes which took place in the methods of production 
with which man acquired newer and more appropriate means 
to procure the necessaries of life and satisfy his various needs. 
The productive forces which at a given time are at the dis- 
posal of the people, form a power to which the race is sub- 
jected; man is compelled to adapt his life in conformity to 
these, and he does so quite instinctively, as if yielding to a 
natural power. The sum of all these productive forces forms 
the basis of society. They determine at any given time the 
prevailing political institutions, the property and juridical re- 
lations; they affect the moral, the religious, the artistic concep- 
tions and views; all social life, all cultured life obtains its 
nourishment from the material relations of production and the 
corresponding economic conditions of life. But gradually as 
the productive forces become developed, through new inven- 
tions and discoveries, an antithesis appears. The property re- 
lations, the juridical and political relations no longer cor- 
respond to the basis upon which they rest. New demands 
manifest themselves, new ideas crop up; at first vague and in- 
distinct, but later on with an ever growing strength and clear- 
ness. The productive forces no longer find room for a con- 
tinued development within the framework of the old society; 
they threaten to burst the trammels and to introduce entirely 
new social conditions. The antithesis assumes the form of a 
conflict between various classes, some of which by virtue of 
their economic position strive to MAINTAIN, others because 
of THEIR peculiar economic conditions, to OVlERTHROW 
the existing social order; and these latter classes become ever 
stronger and their interests become more and more dominant. 

Now commences a period of social revolution, during which 
the property relations of the old society, with their juridieal 


and political organizations, with their social and moral con- 
sciousness, are destroyed and supplanted by a society which 
responds to the new demands and furnishes an unobstructed 
course for a continued development of the productive forces. 
Thus world history is developed in close concordance with 
the ever progressing technique of production, through which 
man seeks to satisfy his needs to as great an extent and with 
as little effort as possible. It is the simplest, purely economic 
relation which at any time forms the fundamental basis of all 
social life and gives it its own peculiar impress. Each par- 
ticular epoch of the history of the human race carries within 
itself the germs of the revolution which will destroy it, and 
also of the new society which must supersede it. A social sys- 
tem cannot be overthrov/n arbitrarily; it is not destroyed un- 
til the productive forces which it contains are fully developed 
and burst the shell. And a new society cannot be Introduced 
arbitrarily; It must come as a historical necessity, when the 
conditions for Its appearance have been developed in the womb 
of the old society. 

This Is the kernel In the Socialist conception of history. It 
is a conception revolutionary in Its scope; It preaches revolt 
against the existing, the capitalist, society, and points toward 
the new, the Socialist Republic. 

For, if the social relations continually change in accordance 
with the development of the productive forces, then it follows 
that capitalist society is but a passing phase In human history, 
destined to collapse and give way to a new historical epoch, 
based upon entirely different principles. It contains no con- 
demnation of the present mode of production; It is strictly 
objective and does not present any moral viewpoint; but it 
contains the death-sentence of this system; it points to the 
proletariat as that revolutionary power which must execute 
this sentence, and it shows the Socialist society as the neces- 
sary, as the only possible successor to capitalism. | 

The Socialist conception of history is a scientific hypothesis. * 
Its correctness cannot be proven in the same absolute manner 
in which a mathematical proposition is proven — as little, for 
example, as it can be proven with absolute certainty that it 
is the earth which revolves around the sun and not vice versa. 
It can only be maintained to the extent that it stands the test 


of HISTORICAL FACTS. But we find then that wherever it 
is tried, it agrees with all ascertainable facts, and furnishes 
the only reasonable explanation of conditions, which, without 
its aid, would be utterly incomprehensible. Only through it 
does historical research raise itself above the separate phe- 
nomena and make clear the inner connection between them, 
enabling us to arrive at a complete and satisfactory explana- 
tion of such social events and movements which at various 
times occur in the history of the race and of the mighty social 
changes which form the boundaries of the different historical 
periods. Only through the Socialist conception of history can 
we come to an understanding of not only WHAT happens, 
but also WHY it happens. 

We shall in the following endeavor to give in broad out- 
lines three of the most important revolutionary epochs of Eu- 
ropean history, 

The Rise of Christianity 

The rise of Christianity took place in that period which forms 
the boundary line between antiquity and the Middle Ages. 
And this immensely far-reaching historical event is but a link 
in that mighty process of dissolution and upheaval through 
which the old highly developed Greek and Roman culture was 
destroyed, through which the vast Roman Empire collapsed, 
and through which the ancient social relations were burst 
asunder and supplanted by the medieval. 

Ancient society was reared upon ABSOLUTE SLAVERY. 
The major part of the socially necessary manual labor was 
performed by slave labor — ^just as in our days it is performed 
by personally free laborers, mental and manual. And only 
through such slave labor was it possible for the free men — 
while the productive methods were still in a crude form — to 
employ themselves with public affairs, to participate in war, 
to occupy themselves with the arts and sciences, to develop 
and cultivate their bodies and indulge in other diversions. The 
entire ancient civilization, so rich and in many ways so won- 
derful, rested upon this division between freemen and slaves 
and was profoundly influenced by this relation. 

This economic status had originally proven itself to be the 
most appropriate and had created peaceful and happy social 
conditions. Small farming was the prevailing form. The popu- 
lation consisted of peasants, who for the sake of association 
and of security lived in cities, each of which formed an inde- 
pendent political whole. From these they attended to the 
tilling of the soil, located in the immediate vicinity. The slaves 
were their assistants; they were quite few in number and were 
as a rule treated well. They belonged to the patriarchal house- 
hold; they worked together with their masters in the field and 
in the home; they were interested in the welfare of their 
masters and were reliable caretakers when the masters had to 
go to war. The primitive farming secured to the families a 
safe, though modest, livelihood. It was a society free from 
sharp conflicts, with a vigorous, independent and self-con- 


scious peasant-democracy, devoid of great thoughts or fore- 
sight, a sober earth-bound and earth-bred peasant culture. 

Thus was the earliest ancient society, such as we find it 
reflected in the traditional history of the Greeks and Italians. 
But how entirely different were not the social conditions about 
the time of the advent of Christianity. 

Throughout centuries the ancient agricultural relations had 
gradually been dissolved. And it was militarism which started 
this slow but sure process. The wars to which all able-bodied 
freemen had to give their personal service, were of little ac- 
count so long as they were confined to petty feuds of short 
duration between neighboring towns. But gradually as they 
extended and increased in duration, they became the source 
of much ni'-cry and many hardships. The small landowners 
were compelled to leave their houses and farms for long pe- 
riods, and these were neglected and became dilapidated; land- 
owners were obliged to borrow grain from their wealthier 
neighbors at such usurious rates that they sank deeper and 
deeper in debt and had to pay heavy taxes to the rich, finally 
surrendering their property to these. The peasants were thus 
being impoverished and the numbers of those holding proper- 
ty were growing fewer and fewer, as their land was concen- 
trated in the hands of a small class of rich men. And as it was 
the wars which enabled the rich to expropriate these land- 
holdings, so it was also the wars which supplied them with 
labor-power for their estates. The prisoners of war became 
slaves. The ever increasing number of slaves was sent to the 
market and sold at an ever lower price. The landowners 
availed themselves of the opportunity. Where in former days 
the small independent farmer had cultivated his lots, we now 
find vast estates, worked by great masses of slaves, driven to 
work by the whip of the bailiff. And from agriculture this 
slave labor spread to other branches of subsistence, to the 
working of mines, navigation, the great common workshops, 
etc. All of this. Insofar as there was any profit in It, was seiz- 
ed upon by the greedy rich, employing slave labor, everywhere 
displacing free labor. 

Driven away from land and property, the propertiless peas- 
ants gradually assembled In the great cities, particularly at 
Rome, to seek means of subsistence. But the competition with 


the cheap slave labor prevented them from making a decent 
living at handicrafts, trading, or other useful activities. They 
were compelled to lead miserable lives as slum proletarians. 
Mendicity, gifts from some rich man or other who would also 
take poor people in his service in order to raise himself in pub- 
lic esteem, but above all PUBLIC CHARITY, became their 
only sources of revenue. The free proletarian was not only 
a citizen, having the right to vote at the election of of- 
ficials, which right opened to him opportunities for sharing 
in the big bribes by which the rich bought popular favors, 
but he also possessed the privilege of obtaining aid from the 
state. From olden time it had been customary for the public 
to endeavor to satisfy the needs of the proletariat by distribu- 
tion of grain and other victuals, by feeding them gratis, and 
also by giving them access to all kinds of amusements. The 
proletariat demanded such support, and as their numbers 
grew, their demands became greater and greater. The ruling 
class was compelled to meet these demands. The hungry 
populace was a restive lot, and if their hunger became too 
keen, violent, revolutionary explosions could be anticipated. 

What a difference between our modern working class pro- 
letarians, who through their labor support society, and that 
proletariat of hungry individuals which then flocked to Rome 
and other great cities, unaccustomed to work through gener- 
ations of inactivity, with no other resources than the private 
and public charity, unable to give, but eager to receive — a 
population which only consumed of the wealth of society. 

In order to procure means wherewith to satisfy the hunger 
and demands of the continually increasing proletariat, it be- 
came necessary to extend the possessions of the state, to sub- 
ject foreign nations and force them to pay taxes. The ruling 
powers eagerly seized upon the opportunity. They thereby 
not only established peace within and checked the uprisings 
of the proletariat, but they also acquired great riches through 
the exploitation of the conquered countries, as governors, 
tax-gatherers, money-lenders, and monopolizing merchants. 
The demands of the proletariat for a living at the expense of 
the state, and the insatiable greed of the plutocracy were the 
moving factors in the POLICY OF CONQUEST of the an- 
cient states. 


At the time of Christ, the conquest of the then known world 
by the Roman Empire had been accomplished. Rome, the 
Roman ruling class, as a fantastic monster, extended its do- 
minion to all sides, from the interior of Asia to the Atlantic 
Ocean, from as far north as England down to the Desert of 
Sahara, as the great exploiter, absorbing the wealth of all 
nations, concentrating an incomprehensible luxury in the 
hands of a few, and forcing all society further and further 
down in misery and poverty. Whatever was left of free peas- 
ants and artisans, was fleeced by tremendous taxes — not with- 
out reason did the Roman "publicans" become the object of 
the hatred of the population — and sank deeper into hopeless 
poverty. The communes throughout the different countries 
had to obtain loans at exceedingly usurious rates in order to 
pay the enormous high taxes, and fell thereby into the clutches 
of the Roman financiers, who did not let go until the last par- 
ticle of wealth had been extracted. Whatever wealth there 
■was in the conquered countries was brought to Rome. 

The social conditions brought about by this exploitation were 
so bad that it was not only quite common for people to sell 
themselves into slavery, but they also felt greatly relieved once 
they, as slaves, were no longer subjected to the worries and 
sufferings which they had undergone as freemen. 

The ever increasing proletarianizing of the great mass of the 
population, the gigantic concentration of wealth in the hands of 
an infinitesimal number of individuals, the ruthless and ever 
farther reaching exploitation, — that is the movement observed 
at the time of Christ throughout the vast Roman Empire. Ap- 
parently there is a similarity between this development and 
the one which the capitalist mode of production produces in 
our days. But only apparently so. In reality the social condi- 
tions were then of an entirely different nature. 

While the capitalist method of production forces into exist- 
ence an ever higher working technique, endless inventions and 
discoveries, which enable the race to produce an increasing 
amount of the necessaries of life and objects of pleasure with 
less exertion, thereby creating the necessary conditions for a 
higher form of society, in which the technical progress can 
fully redound to the benefit of humanity, through the Socialist 
method of production and distribution — there was nothing in 


ancient society which corresponded to this; no germ of a high- 
er form of society; everything pointed downward and back- 
ward, nothing upward and forward. 

Slavery, the fundamental basis of the whole society, formed 
an insurmountable obstacle to all technical progress. It fol- 
lowed, that when slave labor was as cheap as it was, there was 
no incentive to seek new, more appropriate working methods 
by which labor-power might be saved. A machine which made 
it possible to do the same amount of work with less men, in 
shorter time and with less efforts, would in but a few cases be 
a saving to the master, because the acquisition of such would 
entail far greater expenditures than could be saved by reduc- 
ing the working force. The cognition of natural sciences 
which slowly developed had, with very few exceptions, little or 
no effect upon the general productivity. 

It was not only through its cheapness that slave labor ham- 
pered technical progress, but also through its baseness. The 
slaves no longer, as in the old patriarchal days, lived under 
the same roof as their masters and went with them to work, 
but were kept locked up in barracks closely watched. They 
"were unintelligent, unreliable, disinterested, lazy, and could 
only be driven to work by the bailiff's whip. All the bad quali- 
ties were cultivated and promoted by the conditions under 
■which they lived. For the sufferings to which they were sub- 
jected they took revenge by torturing the domestic animals 
on the estates, by destroying the implements wherever they 
had the chance and by doing as much damage and being of as 
little use as possible. It was possible, to a certain extent, to 
force them to do the crudest, the simplest work; but for the 
finer, more complicated work their ability did not suffice, tt 
would have been quite impossible to put the great mass of 
them to a task requiring care and forethought, interest and 

came a necessary consequence of the prevailing social proper- 
ty relations of the master's property rights over his workmen's 
lives. They became paralyzed; there was no room for their 
further development within the framework of slave society. 
The existing juridical conditions had to be burst before newer 
and more advantageous productive relations could be estab- 


lished. Everywhere the superiority of free labor gradually 
came to be recognized, and an adaptation in accordance with 
this conception was begun. Toward the decline of ancient 
Rome it became quite common for the masters to liberate their 
slaves or give them a small wage which in later years would 
enable them to buy their freedom; but the liberated slave re- 
mained in a state of dependency on his former master, to 
whom he had to give up part of his income or pay as a yearly 
tax. And the income derived from these released slaves who 
earned their living as artisans or merchants, was generally far 
greater than the surplus which the slave produced over and 
above his keep. Such was the condition in the cities. 

In the country a similar movement manifested itself. The 
vast estates, cultivated by slaves, were found to be more and 
more unprofitable. Instead, the landowners began to parcel 
out their land and lease it to semi-free peasants who had to 
pay a fixed yearly rent or give up a certain part of the prod- 
uct. In this manner the rich made greater gains than they did 
from slave labor. 

Thus old society was gradually dissolved; MEDIEVAL SO- 
CIETY was reared on its ruins, though as yet only here and 
there, and in vague forms. 

The paralysis of the productive forces which was produced 
by the social institutions of the ancient world did not mean 
only STAGNATION; it also meant RETROGRESSION. It 
was not the majority of the population alone, but it was so- 
ciety as a whole which became impoverished and whose 
sources of wealth gradually became exhausted. 

The exploitation by the state and the rich of the population 
of the Empire carsied with it a continuous squandering of 
values. While under the capitalist system of production the 
great mass of wealth which the capitalists absorb is invested 
in new means of production, in factories, mines, land improve- 
ments, means of transportation and other things necessary to 
produce new wealth, under the old social system there was 
little or no opportunity for such a productive application of 
the booty acquired. The taxes and usurious interests, which 
like a golden stream were flowing from Asia, Europe, and 
Africa into Rome, were lavishly spent on festivals, theatrical 
performances, magnificent buildings, and the like. They mere- 


ly represented a never-ceasing exploitation; always to take 
and never to replace. Growing poverty, misery and decay 
throughout the Empire was the necessary result; and year af- 
ter year it became worse. 

Other causes contributed to this state of affairs. The soil 
became exhausted. The managing of the vast estates of the 
rich Romans was rapacious, they were veritable grain-factories 
with the least possible number of domestic animals, with a 
reckless utilization of the soil, regardless of its capacity to 
yield; with the greatest possible immediate gain in view, and 
no thought whatever for the future. Greater and greater 
quantities of grain were sent to Rome, Alexandria, and other 
large cities, and no attempt was made to restore to the soil in 
any form the substance taken therefrom. The resources of 
the soil became exhausted; its fertility decreased; its capacity 
to support the population declined. And militarism at the 
same time meant a continued drain on society. 

Ever greater were the sacrifices demanded for the defense 
of the extensive boundaries of the vast Empire against bar- 
barian peoples. The Roman citizen army did not suffice, and 
the oppressed and starved proletariat became more and more 
unfit material for war. Hired barbarian troops had to be con- 
tended with; they became increasingly expensive, constantly 
demanding higher pay as they realized how indispensable they 
were. The military burdens grew incessantly, swallowing a 
greater and greater portion of the wealth which was scraped 
together from all over the world. In order to satisfy these 
military demands, peaceful pursuits had to be abandoned. The 
wonderful roads could not be maintained; the great water 
mains collapsed; the extensive drainings, undertakings, which 
had transformed desolate, fever-breeding swamps into fertile 
fields, were given up, and the regions became depopulated and 
were withdrawn from civilization. 

The result of it all was decay, a sure and steady march toi 
poverty everywhere. It was a society which had lived beyond 
its means, and now approached its inevitable destruction. It 
creaked in all its joints; everywhere the dissolution which took 
place was felt. In all classes a feeling of discontfort prevailed. 
Everyone was perplexed and disheartened by the disasters 


looming up. There were no great cheerful future possibilities;- 
there was only decadence and darkness. 

These desperate social conditions were deeply impressed on 
the minds of the populace. They gave the INTELLECTUAL 
LIFE a different stamp, and thus came to prepare the way 
{or Christianity and its victorious march throughout the 

In the petty agricultural society of the earliest days, the re- 
ligious conceptions had been a sort of rationalistic nature- 
religion, where the natural elements of which little or nothing 
was known had been given human form. Mysticism was en- 
tirely absent. There was no such thing as a personal god 
idea; the priests, appointed by the state, attended to the regu- 
lar offerings at certain times, and so long as they were prop- 
erly observed the gods had no further claims on the citizens. 
Sin and consciousness of sin were unknown concepts. If a 
man acted in the interest of the state, of society, he acted 
well; and only when he outraged public welfare was the anger 
of the gods aroused. How he acted in private life was his 
own concern. The question of life hereafter did not agitate 
his mind to any extent^ — the present life demanded his whole 
attention; and if anyone formed any idea at all of things be- 
yond the grave, it was at most a vague conception of a gray 
and joyless shadow-world. 

How utterly different were the religious and moral concep- 
tions of the minds toward the close of antiquity, oppressed as 
they were by the growing social misery and hopelessness! Un- 
rest, insecurity and discomfort dominated all minds. Just as 
there was no sign of a way out of the misery of the old so- 
ciety to a society on a higher and happier plane, there was no 
way of reflecting a healthy and robust view of life out of this 
chaos, a view that would spur the members on to struggle for 
the realization of new social ideals. While the increasing dis- 
solution of capitalism in our days creates a richer and fresh- 
er conception of life for the subject class, as they gradually 
become conscious of their social position and historical 
mission, the dissolution of ancient society created a sense of 
general insecurity, perplexity, moral weakness, people felt as 
if they were on unsafe ground, and sought, terror-stricken, 
refuge in anything which held out promise of support and 


consolation. These sentiments took hold, above all, of the 
proletariat, of the great mass of poor freemen and ex-slaves, 
steeped as they were in poverty, and with no resources what- 
ever. It must be remembered how radically the proletariat of 
those days differed from that of our own time. The modern 
wage workers, as individuals, have no chance, no hope of in- 
dividually being able to raise themselves to a more profitable 
or safer position. But considered as one of a class the work- 
er has a world to gain through the Social Revolution, which 
is the result of the class struggle. Not so with the ancient 
proletarian. He felt himself abandoned to social forces which 
he could not combat. He saw no way out of misery, neither 
through individual efforts nor through a united class fight. 
His position was hopeless in an entirely different sense. The 
only real and lasting liberation which he could think of did 
not lie beyond the borderline of existing society, but beyond 
terrestrial life, — there, and there only, might he hope for re- 
lief. His thoughts struck the road of mysticism and were 
draped in dreams and poetry, and not in consciously directed 

A saviour was dreamt of, one who should come and redeem 
humanity through supernatural means, and it was for a time 
believed that the first emperors should accomplish this. Their 
persons were regarded as superhuman, as divine, and many 
prodigious things were related about them. A comet appear- 
ed after Caesar's funeral; it was the soul of the deceased as- 
cending to heaven, the abode of the gods. 

But the Empire could not check the process of decay. So- 
cial misery grew, and mysticism increased correspondingly. 
People's thoughts dwelt more and more on the life hereafter; 
since earthly life was as bad as it was, then surely there must 
be a life beyond where recompense was to be had, redemption 
for the present sufferings. The gray shadow-world, which 
agitated so little the minds of the people in the old, happy 
days, became formed along Christian lines at the close of an- 
tiquity. Ideas of punishment and reward after death for acts 
committed on earth, of a pure heavenly justice, began to crop 
up. The moral consciousness was influenced by these con- 
ceptions. The idea of "sin" became ever more dominant; the 
concept of a personal god, with prayers and supplication, be- 


gan to take the place of the old, purely business-like god-wor- 
ship conducted by the priests as "attorneys" for the citizens 
of the state. 

The traditional, naive rationalistic mythology was unable 
to satisfy this religious need. It was transformed and adapt- 
ed to suit the demands of the times, or was entirely supersed- 
ed. The Oriental religions of a decidedly mystical character 
and with many features which resembled Christianity had for 
some time had a number of adherents in the western part of 
the Roman Empire. They gained gradually a great following 
among the population which craved for mysticism. MONO- 
THEISM forced its way through with greater and greater 
strength, the belief in one god took the place of the old na- 
ture-religious belief in various gods, each one performing a 
certain function. "The unknown god," for whom, the "Acts" 
relate, the Athenians built an altar, is a significant example 
of the new religious life which was being born; and many of 
the statements in the writings of contemporary philosophers 
are so much like the Christian idea that — were it not an ab- 
solute impossibility — we might think them written under the 
direct influence of Christianity. Along with Monotheism ap- 
peared other, apparently quite opposite conceptions of an in- 
finity of good and evil spirits, conceptions akin to the belief 
of Catholicism in angels, saints and devils. 

Simultaneously, superstitious conceptions sprang up in pro- 
lific multiplicity. The nerves were overwrought, and the 
wierdest ideas found a fruitful soil in the terror-stricken minds. 
We find in those days a myriad of unusual conceptions which 
everywhere were reflections of diseased social conditions. 
Seers, fortune tellers and conjurers found a large and ever 
increasing clientele; in all different happenings were seen fore- 
bodings of coming events. It is interesting to note how, in 
the popular belief, things happened which are parallel to many 
of the miracles mentioned in the New Testament. It was told 
how divine beings begat children with earthly women, and 
also how holy men ascended to heaven without leaving a trace 
of their bodies. There were wonderful cures related of the 
lame becoming active and the blind gaining their sight. Even 
the sober historian Tacitus describes how the Emperor Ves- 
pasian cured a blind man by moistening his eyes with saliva. 


They told of awakenings of the dead. The famous miracle- 
worker ApoUonius met a funeral procession bringing the 
corpse of a young woman to the grave; he commanded them 
to leave the litter on the ground and promised to change their 
sorrow into joy, and as he touched the dead and uttered some 
unintelligible words, the young woman arose, spoke, and went 
back to her parents* house. Significant is it to note that the 
early Christians did not in the least question the ability of the 
pagan "magician" to perform miracles, but they ascribed it to 
the influence of the devil and evil spirits. 

It was not only a series of new religious conceptions, a new 
faith and superstition which grew out of these turbulent so- 
cial conditions, but the purely MORAL CONCEPTIONS 
were also transformed under the direct influence of the dis- 
solution of the old order of society. These took on a new 
meaning, which removed them more and more from the an- 
tique morals and brought them nearer to the Christian. 

The sight of all this growing need and misery bred a com- 
passion, a feeling of pity, which had been quite rare in the 
old days when need and misery appeared only exceptionally in 
society. Private charity became burdened with greater and 
greater problems as the various state institutions decayed. 
With charity increased also the recognition of the personal 
worth of the good deeds as a source of intellectual satisfac- 
tion and justification for the benefactor himself. That it was 
better to give than to receive — an idea which had been utter- 
ly incomprehensible in former days — was generally conceded 
at the close of antiquity. Such concepts as love of mankind, 
neighborly love, acquired meaning. Among the proletariat a 
feeling of interdependency developed; they sought refuge and 
consolation from one another. 

A peculiar feature of this increasing sense of duty and fel- 
lowship toward other men, aside from the greater force with 
which it appeared, a force which gave it a far more deep-root- 
ed character than formerly, was its extension to include 
strangers and slaves. The identity of interest which the old 
primitive society naturally created was limited to include peo- 
ple belonging to the same state, or rather city, and to free 
citizens only. The stranger, the foreigner, was looked upon 
with suspicion and was considered an enemy to whom no one 
was under any obligations of any kind; "enemy" and "stran- 


ger" were expressed by the same word; and the slave was 
looked upon as a domestic animal with some reasoning ability, 
who in the master's own interest was treated well because lit 
the long run it proved to be the most profitable; his master 
might take a liking to him as he would to a dog or a horse, 
but no more. The social development, however, had now 
broken down these barriers. 

The Roman Empire embraced within its boundaries people 
of the most heterogeneous nations; international intercourse 
brought them continually in contact with each other. And as 
the various races in this manner were "shaken" together, they 
no longer thought first and foremost as Romans or Greeks, 
Teutons or Syrians, but as human beings, and thus the divid- 
ing line between freemen and slaves was gradually wiped out. 
The great mass of liberated slaves formed a transitional link: 
between them; their ancestors had been slaves, their descend- 
ants would be freemen. Several slaves rose to high and in- 
fluential ranks in the state, as the advisers of the Emperor, 
"ministers," positions which the freemen of the upper classes, 
through inherited class prejudice, for the greater part declin- 
ed. The increasing realization of slavery as an untenable so- 
cial institution no doubt contributed to this changed concep- 
tion of the slave; and the numerous proletarian freemen who 
did not own slaves, but on the contrary, lived under conditions 
little better than those of the slave, had no reason to entertain 
the notion that the slaves were human beings of a different 
and lower grade. 

Thus paganism, — the religious and moral conceptions of an- 
tiquity — was in full process of diss'olution long before Chris- 
tianity had gained recognition.- "The great Pan was dead." 
This, the myth related, was the plaintive cry, such as the pass- 
ing skipper heard it.* That means that the old nature-religion 
no longer satisfied man. The changes in social relations in- 
fluenced the consciousness, dispersed former conceptions and 
compelled man to seek for and grope along new spiritual 
paths. And he was instinctively more and more forced in 
that direction which later came to be known as Christianity. 

How far this tendency had been carried at the time of Christ 
is shown by the writings of the Roman philosopher Seneca. 
One of the foremost students of ancient philosophy sums up 


his teachings in the following: 'The body, or as he con- 
temptuously calls it, the 'flesh,* is something so worthless 
that we cannot estimate it too low; it is but the mortal frame 
of the soul, a dwelling where it temporarily resides, but where 
it never feels itself at home, aye, a burden which oppresses it, 
a chain from which it longs to be relieved. ... In itself 
the soul is as much above the body as the Deity is above mat- 
ter, and the true life of the soul only begins when it leaves the 
body. . . . The present life is to him but the prelude to a 
better life, the body but a hostelry, which the soul leaves to 
return to its higher home. He looks joyfully forward to the 
day when he shall burst the bodily chains, 'the birthday of eter- 
nity,' as he calls it with an expression which also the early 
Christians used; he depicts that eternal peace which awaits us 
above, the freedom and bliss of heavenly life, the light of un- 
derstanding, which win reveal the secrets of all nature; nor 
does he forget the reunion after death, the summer of the per- 
fect souls. He also conceives of death as the great judgment 
day, on which judgment shall be pronounced on all of us; and 
he sees in life hereafter the force of moral life. That the soul 
some time shall leave h'm does not trouble him when he pic- 
tures its re-appearance in another form." 

We see how the necessary elements for the spread of Chris- 
tian teachings had been created through the intellectual, re- 
ligious and moral currents, each of which with logical neces- 
sity sprang from the social changes at the end of ant quity. 
The "fulness of time," as it graphically was called, had arrived. 
When Christianity in the first centuries of our era spread 
among those colonies of Jews, scattered throughout the Ro- 
man Empire, it found their minds prepared. It gave definite 
form to those conceptions which had taken hold of the con- 
sciousness of the population, particularly the proletariat. And 
it was not only its religious and moral ideas which met with 
sympathy, but also its social ideas. 

Christianity, in its first and purest form, was A RELIGION 
FOR THE PROLETARIAT, for the poor, suffering and op- 
pressed in society. These were the people to whom Christ 
spoke. Immediately before his first appearance as a teacher, 
he read in the synagogue of Nazareth the prophecy of Isa'ah: 
"The Sp'rit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed 


Mc to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal 
the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and 
recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that 
are bruised." (Isaiah 61.1 — St. Luke 4.18.) In his foreboding^ 
the nature of his activity is outlined. And v^hat he later says 
•oincides: "Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of 
God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. 
Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh." (St. Luke 

6.20-21) "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy 

laden, and I will give you rest." (St. Matt. 11.28.) 

It was also the common people that gathered around him 
and listened to him. His apostles were poor fishermen and 
artisans, and great was the anger and indignation of the pil- 
lars of society, the pharisees and scribes, because "publicans 
and sinners kept close to him to hear him." It was just the 
miserable and despised people who sought refuge with him, 
and found not only consolation for the soul but also practical 
defense against those who were hard on them. The story ot 
the woman caught in adultery is in its sublime simplicity the 
most scathing expression of contempt for the existing moral 
hypocrisy, and the answer he gave applies as strongly today: 
"He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at 
her." (St. John 8.7.) 

Thus his message was one of compassion and leniency for 
the poor and outcast in society; but for the rich he had but 
hard and threatening words. The rich man suffered grievously 
ki hell, not because he was so very wicked and sinful, but sim- 
ply because he was rich and enjoyed his wealth, "clad in pur- 
ple and costly linen and lived every day in magnificence and 
joy," while Lazarus slept at his door and ate the crumbs from 
his table. Again and again is the same conception of wealth 
expressed. His is an absolute denunciation of any society 
where there are rich and poor, affluence and want. "Woe unto 
you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation." (St. 
Luke, 6.24) . . . "Verily I say unto you. That a rich nDan 
shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is easier 
for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich 
man to enter into the kingdom of God." (St. Matt. 20.23-24.) 
And when the wealthy man, who has kept all the command- 
ments from his 3'outh, asks what he must further do to inherit 


eternal life, Jesus answers: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and 
sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have 
treasure in heaven." (St. Matt. 19.21.) 

In the proclamations of the disciples the same rejection of 
all wealth is repeated, and particularly in the James letter the 
rich are denounced because of the exploitation and suppression 
to which they subjected the poor: "Do not rich men oppress 
you, and draw you before the judgment seats?" CSt. James 
2.6.) . . . "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for 
your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are cor- 
rupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and 
silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness 
against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have 
heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold the hire of 
the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you 
kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have 
reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Ye 
have lived in pleasure on earth, and been wanton; ye have 
nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter," (St. James 

It was, accordingly, a decided proletarian tendency which 
dominated Christianity in the first centuries of our era, a 
tendency which theology of later times only succeeded in mis- 
representing by sophistically exercising a most reckless vio- 
lence against the old traditions. And just as proletarian was 
the positive social ideal which Christianity proclaimed. 

SUMPTION, the communistic form of society which was the 
natural expression of the social longings of the ancient pro- 
letariat, and which in the first Christian congregations was 
not only proclaimed but practised. It was as yet impossible 
to form a social ideal of productive Socialism — the co-operative 
commonwealth — because the historical conditions for such an 
order of society were wholly lacking; the consumptive com- 
munism, the ENJOYMENT of things in common, became the 
ideal of the proletarians of those days. 

This principle is prominent in the Gospels, and particularly 
hi the "Acts." He who would follow Christ had to give up all 
his property, donate it to the congregation, and the congrega- 
tion lived in a common household, maintained through com- 


mon ownership. It was not a voluntary matter whether or not 
one should place his belongings at the disposal of the con- 
gregation. On the contrary, it was considered a mortal sin 
to neglect. Ananias and his wife Sapphira were punished with 
death because they had withheld part of their wealth for their 
private benefit (Acts 5). The Christian was to be personally 
propertiless, and could only be co-sharer of the common pos- 
sessions. In the "Acts" we find a description of the original 
Christian congregations, and find them constructed in ac- 
cordance with the commands of Christ, based upon the ideas 
of an absolute communistic relation of property and con- 

"And all that believed were together, and had all things in 
common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted 
them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing 
daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from 
house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and single- 
ness of heart, praising God, and having favor with the peo- 
ple. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be 
saved." (Acts 2, 44-47.) .... 

"Neither was there any among that lacked; for as many as 
were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the 
things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' 
feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as 
he had need." (Acts 4, 34-35-) 

It is conceivable how such a communistic society would ab- 
sorb the great mass of the starved and oppressed proletarians, 
not only in Palestine, but also throughout the vast Roman Em- 
pire. But it will also be seen that its duration, of necessity, 
would be short. The number of destitute people to be kept 
satisfied grew rapidly, but the amount of wealth at disposal 
increased very slowly. Soon the bottom would be reached. 
At the beginning they rested content with the idea that Christ 
would soon return and that the end of the world was at hand. 
But as time went on the difficulties increased. From the let- 
ters of the apostles, particularly those of Paul, we receive a 
vivid impression of the sharp admonitions which were admin- 
istered in order to obtain necessaries for the support of the 
poor in the community. Very early, in the course of but a few 
decades, pure communism d'sappeared, as in the nature of 


things it had to, because the class interests which there found 
expression, those of the proletariat and petty bourgeoisie, had 
as yet no future before them. It was changed to a decrepit 
charity for the support of the clergy at the expense of the con- 
gregation; to the sacrament of the Lord's supper as a last 
remnant of the old-time meals, in which all participated; here 
and there also to a monastic life and semi-caricatures of the 
days of the early Christians. 

The wealth which was collected for the community was 
more and more used for the support of that upper class of ec- 
clesiastics who gradually raised themselves above the rest of 
Christian society, and the clergy made ever greater demands 
for personal contributions from the members of the con- 
gregation. Thus the old Christian communism was gradually 
transformed into the medieval, exploiting church. Theology 
simultaneously became active explaining away and misinter- 
preting the expressions and statements of the New Testament 
regarding wealth and poverty, to rob them of their "salt" and 
adjust the Christian teachings to suit the ruling class in so- 

But still, long after, there were sects trying to carry the 
program of ancient Christianity into effect. As late as the 
close of the Middle Ages the old Christian ideals played their 
role in the class struggle. And even today the accounts given 
in the "Acts" are condemnatory of the hypocrisies of our time, 
of the hypocrites who endeavor to show, Bible in hand, the 
right and justification for private property, whereas no Social- 
ist agitator has used stronger language against nor more mer- 
cilessly denounced this right than did Christ and his disciples. 

The Reformation 

The time about the year 1500 is marked by a long chain of 
important events and changes which paved the vi^ay for all 
later historical development. The Italian Renaissance had 
created an elegant and superior art, sparkling with life and 
keauty; the ideas of humanism, which, from the universities of 
northern Italy had spread to the countries north of the Alps, , 
gave birth to entirely new scientific conceptions and methods 
of reasoniiig; the Lutheran Reformation cleared away the re- 
ligious sup rstition which formerly rested heavily upon the 
mind. The use of gunpowder, the invention of which was 
made at about that time, developed an entirely new war 
technique, with mass armies of hired infantry making super- 
fluous the heavily armed cavalry of the nobility. The art of 
printing paved the way for an extension of the cultivation of 
the minds of the population and put an end to the monopoly 
of literary knowledge and employment which the clergy until 
then had enjoyed; the great discoveries of the sea-route to In- 
dia and of the new continent, which emerged from out of the 
mists of the Atlantic Ocean, extended the horizon of humanity 
far beyond its former narrow limits. All this was accompanied 
by violent social conflicts which shook the foundation of so- 
ciety, sharp collisions between the various classes. The bour- 
geoisie and the peasants were struggling for supremacy against 
the ruling classes of the old order, against the nobility and the 
clergy. It was a crisis where the old and the new met in des- 
perate combat; old ideals went down and new ones arose; it 
was one of those epochs of transition where life is lived more 
intensely than usually, an age of revolution, "when it is a pleas- 
ure to live," as one of the great fighters of that time, Ulrich 
von Hutten, said. 

It was medieval society which went down before the forces 
developed in preceding centuries. And it was the DAWN OF 
CAPITALISM which gave the impetus to this enormous up- 
heaval. CAPITAL had stepped upon the historical stage of 
the world as a revolutionary power. It appeared as yet only 


as purely commercial capital, affecting only the circulation of 
commodities between one country and another, and between 
one man and another, and did not directly enter into produc- 
tion. Nevertheless its effects were far-reaching. All social 
life was seen in a new light; all social relations were disturbed 
and dissolved. Entirely new and deep-striking conflicts arose 
between the various strata of society, and entirely new 
thoughts sprang from this fermenting chaos. 

The economic conditions prevailing in the Middle Ages prop- 
er, when the Grseco-Roman culture of antiquity was finally 
destroyed, were based upon the production of natural objects. 
Commercial life was weak and had played an insignificant part 
in society as a whole. No exchange of commodities took 
place. Articles of utility were produced individually and con- 
sumed by the producer himself without buying or selling. 
Whatever was produced was subjected to immediate con- 
sumption and could not be transformed into money. The peas- 
ant family which lived entirely upon the products of the farm 
without economic intercourse with the world at large, prepar- 
ing its own food products, its own clothes, household uten- 
sils and primitive working tools, is the type of this period. It 
was a period where the material and intellectual culture of the 
common people was very low and showed no sign of progress. 
Whatever was beyond the peasant's immediate environment 
was looked upon with suspicion; no fresh impulses could pen- 
etrate from the outer world; the priest and the monk were the 
only ones representing a higher intellectual force and before 
whom all bowed, blindly and without criticism. An incentive 
to better and more intelligent work, which is otherwise found 
in a growing population for which bread must be procured, 
was wholly lacking; the pest ravaged with few years' intervals 
and kept the number of the population low. 

Just as absolute, however, as was the isolation with regard 
to all strangers, was the feeling of mutual interest which de- 
Teloped within the community. Remnants of the communistic 
conditions of antiquity were still to be found. The land was 
owned collectively and was partly used in common, and such 
a commonwealth was at that time the most appropriate. 

The prevailing social order had formed itself in obedience to 
this economic condition. Since the commodity and money 


circulation was as yet insignificant, land became the natural 
expression for wealth. The secular and clerical potentates 
who had raised themselves had appropriated all the land in so- 
ciety. The peasants were tenants and had the right to the 
use of the land, but under the suzerainty of the proprietor, to 
whom they had to pay an annual tax in the shape of various 
products of the farm, certain stipulated quantities of grain, 
meat, etc. This was the form which exploitation assumed in 
medieval society. But the pressure brought to bear was not 
very intense. So long as production of articles of utility was 
for immediate consumption, and so long as it was impossible 
to dispose of the products in any other way, so long was there 
no incentive for further fleecing. So long as he had an abun- 
dance for his household, the lord was satisfied — ^he had abso- 
lutely no use for any surplus inasmuch as he could not realize 
it in money or exchange it for other commodities. 

The entire medieval culture received its impress from these 
social and economic conditions; the handicrafts, commerce 
and city life, which was forced into the background by agricul- 
ture and was mostly an adjunct to the household of the seig- 
nior or the prelate; the seigniorial manor with its solid ar- 
chitecture and heavy but ostentatious luxury; the stagnant in- 
tellectual life; the power of the Catholic Church over the mind; 
art and intellectual culture in its various manifestations; the 
church buildings and reredoses, the ingenious scholastic phi- 
losophy and the native folk-songs. 

Extremely conservative was the entire medieval social sys- 
tem, with no incentive for progress. The power which was to 
revolutionize society had to come from without. It w^as not 
the feudal lord or the bishop, living on the surplus product of 
the peasant, who carried the future in his folds — it was the 
merchant, arriving as a new element, beginning to buy and sell. 

When world-trade began to expand, the doom of the old 
medieval society was pronounced. 

Already in the eleventh century signs of an increasing com- 
mercialism began to appear in Italy. The Crusades increased 
it tremendously and extended it to the rest of Europe. For a 
couple of hundred years one army of Crusaders followed an- 
other to the East; Christicin empires under European princes 
were formed, and the merchants followed in the wake of the 


armies. Knowledge of Oriental culture created new needs, 
new demands, which could only be satisfied through trade. 
Ever more trade connections were established with the peo- 
ples of western Asia, ever greater masses of the products of 
the East were carried across the Mediterranean to the Italian 
seaports, whence they were shipped to the various European 
countries and exchanged for their products. Gold and silver, 
hitherto forged into tankards and drinking cups, etc., were 
now put into circulation as money; products commenced to 
pass back and forth as commodities; and from one generation 
to another this movement went on at an ever increasing ratio. 
Prominent cities rose along the highways of commerce. The 
international credit system between the great commercial 
houses was perfected. These extended their trade through- 
out unexplored regions of the world. Italian merchants went 
into the interior of Asia, and occasionally as far as the Chinese 
coast. And as the onmarch of the Turks barred this part, the 
commercial efforts became mixed with adventurous desires, 
and the voyages of discovery commenced. In the year 1492 
Columbus reached the New World, and six years later the sea 
route to India, south of Africa, was found. 

It was from the cities of northern Italy that this movement 
emanated, but at an early date the countries north of the 
Alps were forced along. And Germany in particular played a 
great part in this wonderful development, which produced a 
complete revolution in all social relations. Along the commer- 
cial highways of Germany an ever increasing mass of com- 
modities was transported from abroad to Germany, from Ger- 
many to foreign countries. The cities of southern Germany 
which controlled the passes across the eastern Alps, entered 
into nqgotiations with Venice, and great quantities of Orien- 
tal products were consigned to them, which they sent on to 
other places; the north-German cities, the Hanseatic towns 
from the middle of the thirteenth century secured commercial 
supremacy over the Baltic states, Scandinavia and England. 
And from the west German cities a lively trade was maintain- 
ed with France. The city which became the center of this 
rich commercialism was Frankfort. Here all the wires were 
connected. At the Frankfort market "gathered all the mer- 
chants from the Netherlands, from Flanders, England, Poland, 


Bohemia, Italy and France; from almost all Europe they come 
with their goods and conduct an enormous trade," as a report 
from 1495 has it.* 

The commercial activity which thus was developed was pure- 
ly capitalistic. The great commercial houses which quite often 
took the form of a kind of stock company operated with an 
enormous capital and through a many-branched mechanism of 
office workers, agents, buyers, commissioners, sailors, etc. 
Tremendous profits were piled up. How far the capitalistic 
spirit of speculation had been developed is best shown by the 
repeated attempts at monopolizing certain commodities for the 
purpose of forcing the price up and appropriating enormous 
"extra profits." Again and again the commercial houses in 
the German cities were merged into "rings'* for the purpose 
of creating artificial increases in the prices of grain, wine, iron, 
leather, or other commodities, again and again the monopolists 
effected a ruthless onslaught on competitors who interfered, 
by offering commodities at a lower price. And here, as every- 
where, the economic forces were stronger than the juridical 
barriers. All injunctions against monopolies were absolutely 

It was this economic transformation which took place at the 
close of the Middle Ages, and it led to entirely new relations 
in the domain of social life. 

The products of labor assumed an entirely new significance; 
they were different from those in former days, where there 
was no use for more than the household could consume. Now 
they could be sold, transformed into money, and for the money 
new costly objects, fine garments, Oriental spices, foreign 
wine and many other commodities could be procured. There 
was now an incentive for the peasant and the laborers to in- 
tensify their labor in order to increase their products; the 
more they could produce, the more money they would have. 

*To show how far-reaching this "German commercialism" 
of the 13th and 14th centuries was, it may be noted that in 
Stockholm, Sweden, the King, Magnus Smek (about 1350) de- 
clared that the Town Council should consist of an equal num- 
ber of Swedes and Germans, so numerous were the German 
merchants. (Translator.) 


But they were not allowed to keep them. For now exploita- 
tion by the upper classes, the princes, the nobility and the 
church began to increase. Formerly it had been sufficient if 
the peasant brought to the feudal lord as much grain, butter, 
cheese, meat, etc., as was needed by his family and house- 
hold; anything beyond that had been useless. Quite different- 
ly now, when everything was a commodity, the value of which 
was expressed in certain monetary terms. "The more the bet- 
ter," became the watchword. 

The medieval, semi-patriarchal relations were changed into 
a system of exploitation most merciless in character. Taxes, 
tithes, etc., were continually increased and ever new methods 
were invented to extract more surplus wealth from the peas- 
ants, to demand ever more of the natural products, which the 
seignior then would change into florins and ducats. The 
seigniorial management of the land increased as the lords 
gradually confiscated one tenant farm after the other. Thus 
a proletariat of cotters appeared and the peasants who were 
allowed to keep their farms were tormented with an ever in- 
creasing socage on the seigniorial fields. And not only wert 
the burdens of the peasants increased, but their opportunities 
of procuring the necessities of life were further limited. While 
they formerly were allowed to fell trees and to hunt in the 
forests, to fish in the streams and enjoy the right of sending 
their cattle to the common pastures, they were now denied 
these privileges; these now represented something which could 
be turned into money and the feudal lord sequestered them. 
These privileges, through all kinds of juridical legerdemain 
were now interpreted as the private rights of the lord, and the 
peasants were barred out. The feudal, semi-patriarchal rela- 
tions were transformed into a system of the most ruthless ex- 
ploitation. For now it was money that was at stake, and where 
money enters mirth disappears, as the German saying has it. 

The old stagnant, unconcerned feeling of well-being among 
the peasants now disappeared, and it booted them but little to 
have the usurers help them through their immediate difficul- 
ties; it only made bad worse. The poverty and oppression in- 
creased from onetgeneration to another. It was this increas- 
ing exploitation and oppression which throughout Europe gave 
rise to the great PEASANT REVOLTS at the end of the 


Middle Ages. The peasants, armed with spears and axes, rose 
against their tormentors and demanded their former privileges. 
In France a peasant war broke out as early as the 1350's; in 
England in the 1380's; in Germany there were disturbances 
throughout the fifteenth century, and the movement reached 
its climax in the PEASANTS' WAR, 1525. In Denmark the 
bellicose peasants of Jutland and Skane* rose and fought dur- 
ing the "Count's War,"** the last desperate fight for free- 
dom. Everywhere the attempt was crushed and the peasants 
brutally punished, and new, improved methods of exploitation 
and fleecing were applied. 

While the antithesis between the peasants and the secular 
and ecclesiastic lords was the most pronounced of all such, 
arising as a natural consequence of the growing capitalistic 
commercial life, it was by no means the only one. As if by an 
earthquake, deep chasms had been created throughout society. 
There was the antithesis between city and country, sharper 
than before; the antithesis between the nobility and the mer- 
chants; the nobility, who in spite of their increasing incomes, 
gained at the expense of the peasants, went deeper and deeper 
into debt to the capitalists of the cities, and looked upon these 
with envious eyes and revenged themselves whenever oppor- 
tunity offered itself by waylaying the traveling merchants, re- 
lieving them of their moneybags; the antithesis between the 
nobility and the princes — these princes, who sought to strength- 
en their own positions and add to their possibilities of exploit- 
ation, and who, therefore, above all else had to humble the 
nobility and seize upon the authority which the seigniors for- 
merly exercised; the antithesis between the merchants and the 
artisans struggling for supremacy in the administration of the 
affairs of the city; the antithesis between the master mech- 
anics and their journeymen, which latter, as the guilds gradual- 
ly became imbued with the spirit of capitalism, began to de- 

*This latter now a province of Sweden. (Translator.) 
**So called because of the prominent part played by Count 
Christoffer of Oldenburg, who — ^while pretending to fight for 
the cause of the deposed King Christian II, the "friend of the 
common people" — in reality was aiming at the crown himself. 
A secret treaty, it is said, was made between the Count and 
the city of Lubeck. (Translator.) 


velop in the direction of the proletariat, propertiless, and with 
little prospect of bettering their lot. Everywhere was a med- 
ley of conflicting interests, of new antitheses, of new class 

But right through this confused mass of various oppositions 
there was a single dividing line which was drawn in such a 
manner that behind it could gather the various social layers 
of the population mutually to fight against a common enemy. 

It follows, that not only for the peasantry and the nobility 
in the country, but also for the merchants and the artisans in 
the city, the Church, with its secular power, naturally appeared 
as a hostile power whose yoke it was the particular interest of 
all concerned to throw off. Rome had again become the great 
international exploiter, just as it had been fifteen centuries pre- 
viously. And the Christian teachings which originally had 
been the religion of the exploited masses, the poor and op- 
pressed, had become an instrument for the exploitation of the 
entire world. With the increasing development of the pro- 
duction of commodities and the universal use of money as a 
medium of exchange, the Church was taken up with tenden- 
cies toward exploiting the rest of society, and by virtue of the 
position which it gradually had acquired, it could conduct this 
exploitation to a great extent and with an enormous pressure. 
On the other hand, by so doing, it created a feeling of hatred 
and bitterness among those who were made to suffer. The 
Church was the largest landholder in the various countries and 
the torturing of the peasants on its estates was by no means 
inferior to that of the real feudal lords. It was not only the 
wrath of the peasants which was turned against them; the 
nobility and the princes looked with greedy eyes upon the 
immense treasures of the Church, and realizing the booty 
which would fall to them, they, too, began to share the dreams 
of the reformers. And among the bourgeoisie the sentiment 
became more and more hostile against the Church. What 
would it not mean to commerce and exchange if the rich treas- 
ures, now used as altar vessels, chandeliers, etc., were made 
into money and thrown into business; what effect would it 
not have upon the productive activity if the multitudinous 
holidays were abolished and the great swarms of mendicant 


friars and all kinds of ecclesiastics were put to useful labor? 
And fancy the effect upon society if the vast sums, now spent 
on requiems, indulgences, etc., were put into commerce, ship- 
ping and manufacture. 

Throughout the countries this sentiment had manifested it- 
self in the last centuries of the Middle Ages. Strong attacks 
were made upon the Catholic Church; congregations of "in- 
fidels" had been formed here and there whose tenets in many 
ways resembled those of the Lutheran teachings of later 
days. Gradually, as the sale of commodities and the transac- 
tions with money broke down the old economic conditions 
and the new relation was impressed upon the minds of the 
people, the warnings of an oncoming storm became more fre- 
quent and ever more threatening. And it was Germany which 
became the center where the storm first broke out. 

Germany was then that country north of the Alps where 
the effects of the new capitalist commercialism were felt the 
strongest, and where, as a consequence, their eyes had been 
opened to the dependency on the Roman Church. It was felt 
as a source of humiliation and exploitation, not only for the 
various classes of Germany, but for the German people as a 
whole. Year after year an increasing amount of wealth poured 
into the coffers of the clergy, and from Germany to Rome. 
Germany became the milch cow whence the nourishment was 
procured for the greater glory of Rome. This state of affairs 
was looked upon as NATIONAL EXPLOITATION. The 
Papacy, and with that the whole Church, was regarded as a 
NATIONAL calamity, it was felt as a NATIONAL disgrace. 
With the development of capitalism, this sentiment became 
stronger and more bitter and spread farther and farther, and 
at the time of the appearance of Luther, nothing but the word 
was required to crystallize the sentiment into action. 

It is significant to note that it was the question of the sale 
of LETTERS OF INDULGENCE which first impelled Luther 
to come forward, and it thereby formed the starting point of 
the gigantic reformation movement. Few or no theological 
problems had the power of seizing upon the population at 
large to that extent, and to arrest its attention. The questions 
of the freedom of the will, of the blessing and influence of 


chastity and of good deeds, of the transformation of the bread 
and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ were all questions 
for the study-closet and might well cause agitation among 
the learned ones, but they met with no response from the peo- 
ple. Not so with the sale of the letters of indulgence. Here 
it was a question of money; money which year after year was 
taken out of the country to Rome, withdrawn from German 
industry and only serving to enrich the Roman popes and their 
favorites, while the population became impoverished. Here 
they were confronted with a national economic calamity; it 
was reasoning which everyone could grasp, regardless of the 
religious principles which otherwise were attached to the sale 
of indulgences. 

When Luther, on the 31st of October, 1517, nailed his 95 
theses on the church door at Wittenburg, he still felt like a 
iaithful believer, like a Catholic. He was one of the many 
monks and priests of those days who, through influences ol 
various kinds, had become more pietistic than the official 
church; but this view was easily harmonized with Catholic 
principles, and hundreds of theologians shared such views. 
He did not realize how explosive his theses were; had he fore- 
seen the trouble they were to create, he would very likely have 
withheld them.* 

However, the movement he had started soon forced him 
along with it. The intellectual currents which were the expres- 
sions of the economic upheaval of the time were so strong 
that they could not be checked. They could not be arrested 
by a series of modest reforms of the Catholic Church consti- 
tution; they demanded a decisive breach with the entire old 
Church. Luther was forced along, driven from standpoint to 
standpoint, by the mighty forces underlying his time. His 

*That Luther was fighting against the excesses and use 
which was made of the letters of indulgence, and not for their 
abolition, is plainly shown by the seventy-first of his theses. 
In this we are told that "he who speaks against and denies 
the truth of the papal indulgences is liable to ignominy and 
damnation." (Translator.) 


And from the purely INTELLECTUAL spheres, Luther's 
revolutionary sentimeHt began to extend to the purely SO- 
CIAL. We find in his writings from the beginning of the 
1520's a series of sharp attacks, not only against the clerical 
ruling class — which he attacks with a fanaticism of such innate 
hatred that its parallel is not to be found in the agitational 
writings of any author of later days — but also frequently, 
against the secular powers. He directs violent reproaches 
against the princes and the nobles for their rapacity: "Ye do 
naught else than fleece and levy taxes, that ye may lead mag- 
nificent, haughty lives until the poor people cannot, and will 
not endure it any longer. . . . What boots it if the peas- 
ant's field bears as many florins as straw and grain; his mas- 
ters only come and take so much more to add to their splen- 
dor, and expend the values on beautiful clothes, gluttony, 
drunkenness, mansions and the like." And he predicts a mighty 
peasant revolt as the just punishment of heaven for their 

But when the peasants in the year 1525 really did rise 
against their tormentors — the great Peasants* War which in 
a few weeks spread to all parts of Germany — Luther timorous- 
ly shrank back. There was too much of the petty bourgeois 
in him, he was too much imbued with phiUstine notions, had 
too much of an inherent, instinctive respect for the noble 
lords to dare to draw the inevitable conclusions from his prem- 
ises. Just so far as formerly he had been forced in a SOCIAL 
REVOLUTIONARY direction, he was now forced in a SO- 
CIAL REACTIONARY direction. Against the peasant's 
breach of obedience against their secular masters he now. 
turned his wild fanaticism with a desperate blood-thirst, an ab- 
solute delirious cruelty. With his furious hatred toward the 
subject class in its attempt to better its condition, he stands 
as one of the most repulsive figures in modern history. la 
his brochure "against the rapacious and murderous peasants," 
he addresses the princes and the nobility and exhorts them to 
a merciless butchery of the peasants. "Inasmuch as they are 
evil-minded and brazenly refuse to obey, and furthermore re- 
sist their masters, they have forfeited life and soul as do all 
faithless, perjured, mendacious, disobedient knaves and vil- 
lains. Therefore it becomes the duty of all here to strangle 


and stab, secretly or publicly, all such^ and remember that 
there is nothing so poisonous, injurious and fiendish as a re- 
bellious person; just as you would kill a mad dog; if you do 
not strike him, he will strike you, and with you, the whole 

The Peasants' War denotes the REACTIONARY TURN- 
ING POINT in Luther's activity. From now on his sympathy 
for the subject class was extinguished, and the vigorous rev- 
olutionary spirit, frequently found in his earlier writings, was 
dead. He was now the sworn man of the secular ruling class 
to such an extent that he not only warns against relieving the 
peasants of socage and other burdens, but actually suggests 
the reintroduction of chattel slavery. The Lutheran Church, 
which rose in Germany, and from there spread to the greater 
part of northern Europe, was fatedly influenced by this change; 
it did not become the democratic, popular church of which 
Luther had been the advocate, but a bureaucratic state-churcli, 
with the prince as superior, as a new pope, and with a dog- 
matism as rigid and foreign to real life as that of the Catholic 
Church had been, with a duty to educate the subjects to a 
blind, unconditional obedience to their secular masters, a mili- 
tary discipline which finds its classical expression in a sen- 
tence like this: "Your common sense tells you that 2 and 5 are 
7; but when the authorities declare that 2 and 5 are 8, you, 
must believe it in spite of your better knowledge and under- 

The Lutheran Reformation was the greatest and most con- 
spicuous of those intellectual movements which were born of 
the mighty upheaval of that time. But it was far from being 
the only one. It was seething everywhere and the mode of 
thinking was changing. 

The seeds of a new intellectual culture" among the great 
bou'geois and peasant population began to germinate. The 
reformers had been compelled to write in the native tongue 
instead of the Latin language, which the laity did not under- 
stand, and the national languages underwent an enriching de- 
velopment, became polished and were formed into literary 
languages. And the art of printing made it possible to extend 
literary knowledge to ever larger spheres. The desire to read, 
the literary interests increased. National literature grew up. 


The national consciousness became developed. Commer- 
cialism, which had removed the bars separating the single vil- 
lages and provinces, and had brought the nations into recip- 
rocity, created in the popular mind new ideas of a national 
entity. While formerly the people of Zealand, Funen and Jut- 
land* had felt removed from each other, now the conception 
of a common nation to which they all belonged took root — 
the idea of a national whole in contrast with other nations 
with their foreign languages and strange customs. 

A new scientific method of research began to force its way 
through. The well-to-do, self-conscious bourgeoisie could 
not, as formerly, satisfy itself with the authority of the Bible 
on the fields of science. It demanded a real investigation of 
things, based upon observation, reason and cognition. In all 
countries where the development of capitalism proceeded 
quickest, a research of the natural sciences, of the geographi- 
cal, historical and social sciences grew out which overthrew 
the medieval learning and departed from its methods, laying 
the foundation of the scientific understanding of later times. 

And so all over. The moral conceptions, the artistic views, 
political ideals — all these several manifestations of the human 
consciousness were changed under the influence of the com- 
mercial activity of capitalism and the changes in social life 
which it effected. It was the modern age superseding the Mid- 
dle Ages. 

♦The three chief provinces in Denmark, separated by water. 

The French Revolution 

In the year 1789 the great French Revolution broke out. It 
was the bourgeoisie which unfurled the banner of revolt for 
the purpose of acquiring full political power and of using it as 
a means to further the transformation of society in a capital- 
ist direction. As in our days it is the class interests of the 
workers which furnish the revolutionary motive power in the 
whole political movement, so it was then the CLASS INTER- 
ESTS OF THE CAPITALISTS which started the revolu- 
tionary upheaval. 

The great, violent clash in France had about this time be- 
come an inevitable necessity. 

Since the discovery of America and the sea route to India 
toward the end of the fifteenth century, a shifting of the 
center of power had taken place in Europe. The center of 
gravity had moved westward, from Italy and Germany to the 
countries on the Atlantic Ocean. The world's trade had struck 
new roads. The trade of northern Italy on the east coast of 
the Mediterranean had gone down, as a shorter route to the 
Far East had been found; and Germany's role as a connecting 
link between Italy and the countries north of the Alps had 
come to an end. The two countries became impoverished 
and collapsed, economically, politically and intellectually. The 
greater was the ascendency in England, Holland, and partly 
also in France, Here an ever stronger commercialism was 
being developed; here the great cities grew with a population 
of active and wealthy, self-conscious citizens; here were also 
attempts at an industry of purely capitalistic nature. And to 
this economic ascendency corresponded the culture — the 
scientific thinking and research, poetry and art; in all the 
various fields of intellectual life these countries assumed the 

But this growing CAPITALISM could not In the long run 
find room within the old political forms of medieval, feudal 
society. The bourgeoisie, becoming conscious of its social 
importance, was no longer satisfied with its humble position 


as a subject class of ruling estates, the NOBILITY and 
HIGH ECCLESIASTICISM. The bourgeoisie, of necessity, 
had to demand a voice in public affairs, to demand abolition of 
all privileges v^hich the upper classes enjoyed, and which in 
numerous ways oppressed it and hampered its actions; to de- 
mand political forms, with which its social and economic inter- 
ests could uninterruptedly pursue their onward course. A 
thorough-going change in political life became an absolute 
necessity. The more bourgeois economic development ad- 
vanced, the more radical became the political program around 
which the bourgeoisie in the countries of northwestern Eu- 
rope gathered. From its inception, and so long as it was too 
weak to wage successful war against old society, the bour- 
geoisie looked with satisfaction upon the princes when these 
assumed autocratic power and limited the authority of the no- 
bility and the clergy and started a policy which sought to sup- 
port and encourage commerce, trade and industry. To the 
bourgeoisie, enlightened autocracy appeared as an ideal insti- 
tution. Gradually, however, as it felt its own strength grow, 
its demands increased. Demands were made for participation 
in the government of the State. It was no longer sufficient 
that the privileges of the aristocracy be abrogated, but it was 
also found necessary to guard against excesses from the 
princes. The bourgeoisie required clear and reliable informa- 
tion as to the financial affairs of the State; it felt impelled to 
take a hand in the making of commercial laws; to dominate 
commercial politics, taxation, foreign politics and all the dif- 
ferent branches of public activity, which in so many ways de- 
termined its actions. It felt that it was strong enough to take 
the political management in its own hands. More and more 
consciously it strove for a new constitutional form, a repub- 
lic or a constitutional monarchy, where the center of gravity 

Both in England and Holland this change had long since 
taken place. In Holland about the year 1600, while struggling 
to throw off the Spanish yoke, a republican constitution was 
adopted, vesting the political power in the bourgeoisie. In 
England in 1689, exactly 100 before the French Revolu- 


tion, the power of the king had been limited through a blood- 
less revolution, and had secured recognition of the parliamen- 
tary form, which made the government the expression of the 
will of the possessing classes. In France, however, everything 
was as yet in the old rut. 

The king had unlimited power, but the high nobility and the 
high ecclesiastics had preserved and extended their privileges, 
which had more and more become utterly senseless, unreason- 
able and untenable under the new social conditions. 

The court and the two upper estates represented an ex- 
ploitation which became more and more flagrant and which 
more and more was felt to be destructive of all civic activity. 
The burden of taxation kept the urban as well as the rural 
population down, while the nobility and the clergy were ex- 
empt from all taxation. The immense magnificent and costly 
household of the court with its enormous supports to the long 
train of royal favorites, represented an endless squandering 
of the national wealth. Only the nobility had access to the 
higher posts, while the bourgeoisie was excluded. All sorts 
of personal privileges widened the chasm between the two up- 
per estates on the one side, and the "Third Estate" on the 
other, causing much "bad blood." An indescribable demoral- 
ization was spreading throughout the ruling classes; the State 
was simply an object of exploitation which was squeezed to 
the utmost; bribery and the sale of offices flourished; admin- 
istration of justice became a mockery. The peasants were 
fleeced through taxes and feudal obligations and were always 
on the verge of starvation; agriculture was in a wretched con- 
dition and as things developed further, it was cut off from all 
further development. All productive activity suffered under 
the pressure which the ruling classes exerted; its development 
was hampered and its vitality was sapped. The natural re- 
sources of the land were exhausted under this reckless ex- 
ploitation, which knew no bounds, and which started no new, 
useful activities. 

It was a condition which in many respects resembled that 
of modern Russia. And as in Russia, so also in France, un- 
der the old regime, it was felt that a catastrophe was impend- 
ing. "After us the deluge" expresses the prevailing sentiment 
among the ruling classes; in other words, "Let us live on in 


the old manner, and leave it to our descendants to meet tk€ 
catastrophes which must cornel" 

The discontent against the old system grew stronger and 
stronger. The pressure from the small minority of the priv- 
ileged estates bred an ever more violent counter pressure from 
the rest of the population. And it was above all the bourgeoi- 
sie's demands for the abolition of the autocratic power of the 
king and the privileges of nobility and clergy which united 
the population in common action. It was the first and most 
conspicuous problem to be solved in order to insure further 

Once this problem was solved, it was thought a new golden 
age for society would loom up. It was not seen that it wa« 
only a new thraldom that was being prepared, a thraldom of 
^'Equality" became the slogans with which the bourgeoisie 
won the masses — but by "liberty" was merely understood po- 
litical liberty for the possessing, the wealthy classes, and by 
"equality" simply formal equality before the law. The whole 
mode of thought became influenced by the new movements 
and efforts. The philosophical ideas prevailing reflected the 
demands of the bourgeoisie for political and social rights. The 
authors became* ever more daring and consistent in their at- 
tacks on old feudal society and in their glorification of the new 
bourgeois ideals. A mighty impression was made by a bro- 
chure published shortly before the Revolution; its substance 
is expressed in the following strong agitational words: "What 
has the Third Estate been heretofore? Nothing! What does 
; it demand to be? Something! What ought it to be? Every- 

And finally, in 1789, the clash came. The financial affairs 
of the State were in a desperate condition, and the fermenta- 
tion among the populace was so strong that the government 
did not dare to levy new taxes directly. As a last resort the 
STATES GENERAL were summoned. This was an assem- 
bly representing the three estates, the nobility, the clergy, and 
the bourgeoisie; an assembly of a purely medieval nature. It 
was almost two hundred years since this body had previously 
met. Now it came to form the starting point for that great 
capitalistic transformation, the effect of which was felt in all 


parts of Europe. No sooner had the estates convened than 
the tension burst into violent clashes, and now was rapidly 
performed that revolutionary drama, during which the old 
order went down. 

It is not only because it forms the introduction of the po- 
litical dominion of capitalism, to which we today are subject, 
that the French Revolution has for us a peculiarly modern 
interest, that it is of far more than theoretical significance, 
that we should understand its causes and its general nature, 
but also because it was a struggle between the very same ele- 
ments which even in our days are contending for supremacy 
in society: The ARISTOCRACY, which represents the dying 
feudal society,* the BOURGEOISIE, the ruling class under 
capitalism, and the PROLETARIAT. True enough, a great 
change in the mutual relations of the three classes has taken 
place during the 120 years. The capitalist class, which then 
led the attack against the nobility and clergy and used the 
proletariat as food for cannon in the battle, has since passed 
through the various stages from the ultra-revolutionary to the 
ultra-reactionary, and is now ready to join with the aristo- 
cracy in a common reactionary mass whose only program is 
resistance to the demands of the working class. And the pro- 
letariat, which then were few in number and of no distinct 
form, with but a hazy conception of their social position, and, 
as a consequence, easily led by those of the upper classes who 
were bent upon conquering the power for themselves, now 
stand as the strong, independent, revolutionary force, who 

♦While this, strictly speaking, does not apply to America, 
it is none the less true that chiefly the same elements are con- 
testing for supremacy here. The difference is that the "aris- 
tocracy" in America is not a dying feudal remnant. On the 
contrary. Having completed its cycle of development the cap- 
italist class is reverting to a feudalism which in form is dif- 
ferent — as different as is modern Industrialism from medieval 
feudalism — but which in point of oppression and exploitation 
is far worse and more despotic than the feudalism of old. The 
process leading toward this despotism is variously known as 
■"State Socialism," "State Capitalism," or merely government 
or public"* ownership. (Translator.) 


consistently and consciously strive to conquer the political 
power in order to enable them to shape society according to 
their will. And if we wish to understand how the social con- 
flicts of our time have developed historically, we must go back 
to the French Revolution, which contained the same class 
contrasts, though in a vague form, as if in an embryonic con- 

It was a motley mixture of elements which flocked together 
in the struggle against the higher estates and forced the Rev- 
olution along its course until the movement died out. Like a 
series of moving pictures, we see one layer of society after the 
other rise against the one which had been on top, seize the 
power supported by the lower layers, only to turn against 
those who had helped it to victory. Continuously the same 
movement is repeated. As soon as a group had acquired cer- 
tain privileges, corresponding to its particular interests, its 
revolutionary hunger was satiated; it then found that it had 
attained all it reasonably could expect and it saw in all other 
demands simply the results of criminal demagogismi It was 
the same movement, so well known from all later political his- 
tory; but that which in the slow progress of periods of evolu- 
tion takes decades to mature, was brought about in a con- 
densed form with intervals of but a few months. 

First there was the bourgeoisie. But the bourgeoisie was 
not a homogeneous mass with mutual interests, and the mu- 
tual fear of the proletariat had not, as in our days, forced it 
together and wiped out the conflicting differences of its vari- 
ous groups. It embraced factions of various shades. Topmost 
were the financiers, the bankers, the tax-collectors, partners 
in great monopolized, commercial companies, and such peo- 
ple who were living high upon the usurious interests on the 
national debt and the debt of the nobility, and enjoying the 
privileged position granted them by the State — people who at 
the most desired a certain control over the administration of 
the public revenues in order to prevent national bankruptcy, 
but who otherwise were ultra-conservative. Then there were 
the manufacturers. These agreed among themselves to have 
a series of antiquated rules of manufacture of the mercantile 
period abolished; to modify the guild's restrictions on trade. 


etc., but otherwise there were vast differences between them. 
The Paris manufacturers who chiefly manufactured articles of 
luxury looked apprehensively upon a movement which threat- 
ened the abolition of court and nobility — their best customers 
— and they quickly changed from a revolutionary to a reac- 
tionary standpoint. The provincial manufacturers, who oper- 
ated with the mass consumption of the broad populace in 
view, went much further in a radical direction. There were 
the wholesalers, the retailers, the big master-mechanics, the 
office-holders — each group with its special interests, which on 
certain points coincided with the political and economic inter- 
ests of the other groups, but which on other points came into 
sharp conflicts with the interests of these other groups. 

And none the less variform were the relations of those 
parts of the population whose positions were of a predomin- 
ant proletarian nature. The peasants were for the greater 
part in a lethargic condition of despair which could only find 
expression in desperate revolts and acts of incendiarism. The 
Parisian guild artisans and those "free-masters" who led a 
precarious existence outside of the guilds, entertained any- 
thing but gentle feelings for each other, though they, as a 
rule, were equally badly off, each putting the blame for their poor 
condition on the other. An important role, in the revolution- 
ary movement, was played by the "intellectual proletariat" of 
physicians, lawyers' assistants, artists, writers and students, 
who came together in Paris. These latter furnished spokes- 
men to the various layers of the lower classes, speakers for the 
revolutionary assemblies and journalists for the revolutionary 
papers. Of the population subsisting through personal wage- 
labor there was one element which was exceedingly reaction- 
ary; it was the great swarm of lackeys, coachmen, chamber- 
lains, etc., who waited on the rich, both bourgeois and noble 
families. In the course of the revolution they proved them- 
selves to be even more fanatically opposed to liberty than 
their masters. 

Among the journeymen the sentiment was usually strongly 
radical, but there were two different currents; the old pa- 
triarchal relation where the journeyman boarded with his mas- 
ter was practically dissolved, but the modern proletarian re- 
lation had as yet failed to make its appearance. Journeymen, 


for the most part, hoped to rise from the rank of wage-labor- 
ers to that of masters; and their social and political radicalism 
assumed more often a petty bourgeois than a proletarian char- 
acter. Only among the workers in the great factories — their 
conditions being similar to those of our modern wage-labor- 
ers — were consistent, proletarian tendencies manifested. So- 
cialistic efforts were of course at this time entirely out of 
question, but demands for higher wages, right of organiza- 
tion and strike, regulations against unemployment and hard 
times, thoroughgoing reforms in the taxation system, and gen- 
eral suffrage were raised by this faction. 

Scanning the list of social classes, we realize what stuff the 
French Revolution contained for continued splits and conflicts, 
until the revolution resulted in what at that time was the only 
result historically attainable: the victory, the social liberation 
of the higher bourgeoisie, the matadors of commerce and in- 

We can understand how these heterogeneous elements could 
stick togrether so long as the upper layers of society had to be 
fought, and how they would disband so soon as a victory was 
won. We understand how the subject class, lashed forward 
by mutual need and hunger, was NOW being used as a bug- 
bear by the various groups of the bourgeoisie, NOW being 
fought with the sharpest weapons. 

It was the uppermost layers of the bourgeoisie which first 
got into power through the revolution. They made full use 
of the excited sentiments which had seized hold of the prole- 
tariat. The taking of the Bastille was decisive for their vic- 
tory over the two higher estates; and the great peasant re- 
volts throughout the land became the means with which they 
frightened the nobility and clergy to give up their old priv- 
ileges. But no sooner had they reached their goal than they 
were stricken with terror for the movement below. They now 
allied themselves with the moderate elements of the nobility 
and the ecclesiastics for mutual resistance against the further 
progress of the Revolution. They tried to make the govern- 
mental form a constitutional monarchy with a diet (parlia- 
ment) which represented only the wealthy in the land; the 
citizens were divided into "actives," the taxpayers, and "pas- 
sives," those who were too poor to pay taxes, and only the 


former were granted the suffrage; the worker and the petty- 
bourgeois were carefully excluded from all political rights. A 
tax law was passed with the object in Yie\y of shifting the 
public burdens from the rich financiers over to the small deal- 
ers. Terrible punishments were inflicted upon the workers, 
who by common action, even in a very moderate form, sought 
to better their conditions. 

The rulership of the top-capitalists lasted but a few years. 
The revolutionary tension in society was too strong to be 
kept down; it produced a greater and greater pressure and a 
new layer shot up. It was the party of the GIRONDINS, 
which represented the middle layers of the bourgeoisie, not 
higher financial capital, nor yet the lower craftsmasters and 
small dealers, but the wealthy business bourgeoisie, the whole- 
salers and manufacturers, particularly in the provinces. Its 
political program was a moderate republicanism, which would 
secure to the possessing middle classes the chief influence in 
public affairs. As soon as the Girondins, continually invoking 
the common people, had conquered political power, they turn- 
ed around and fought relentlessly against the "ultra-revolu- 
tionaries," the party of the petty bourgeoisie, the "Jacobins," 
and the still more extreme proletarian groups. They saw in 
them nothing but unscrupulous rioters, who were threatening 
"true liberty." "Now the Revolution must stop," one of their 
papers said, "otherwise we risk everything which we have 
achieved .... Now we must extinguish the fire of pas- 
sion, stop party disorder, prevent catastrophes, oppose riots." 
The continuation of the Revolution would mean anarchy, and, 
if necessary, had to be prevented by exceptional laws. It was 
property rights, capitalist property rights, which had to be 
safeguarded. The great, misguided and confused mass was not 
able to conduct State or society; "is it not ridiculous to speak 
of the sovereignty of the masses?" The Girondin tax policy 
aimed at a series of favors for the wealthy bourgeoisie; the 
idea of a graduated tax-rate was firmly rejected; "the grad- 
uated rate is always arbitrary and therefore dangerous to 
property." With deep scorn the Girondins met the demands 
which the hungry masses made for a maximum price on bread 
to prevent some of the consequences of the prevailing high 
prices; it would have been an outrageous interference with 


free competition! And it showed how unpatriotic and demor- 
alized those people were who could propose such measures! 
And when the poor Parisians early in 1793, forced by torment- 
ing hunger, plundered some bakery shops, the Girondin press 
could not find words strong enough to denounce this "mob," 
this "pack of robbers.' 

Thus disappeared all revolutionary spirit and human com- 
passion, as dew before the sun's rays, as soon as one layer of 
the capitalist class had gained a position which had to be de- 
fended against a class below. 

The sentiment in the lower classes grew more and more bit- 
ter through these acts of treachery. What the meaning of it 
all was began to dawn upon them; they began to see through 
that mesh of phrases and big words with which the spokes- 
men and writers for the bourgeoisie tried to veil the real 
motives of their politics, not only for others but also for them- 
selves; they began to realize what role they were intended for 
— a ladder on which the possessing classes could climb to the 
top, from there to turn and grind the classes below under the 
iron heel of exploitation so much more effectively. It was the 
first manifestation of the CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS of the 

As yet the proletariat was too weak, too few in numbers, 
and too heterogeneous in its composition to start an independ- 
ent class war leading to victory. The revolutionary move- 
ments which had the interests of the working class and the 
petty bourgeoisie in view and aimed at thoroughgoing social 
reforms were soon crushed. It was the capitalists who secur- 
ed the power. The liberation of capitalism from the remnants 
of feudalism was the historical problem which had to be and 
was solved. And the fear of the proletariat which the capital- 
ists already had entertained prior to the Revolution, forced 
them to seek refuge in a strong form of government. The 
military dictatorship of Napoleon followed the Revolution — 
and later on the monarchy — conservative forms which could 
guarantee protection of the capitalist property rights against 
the increasing demands of the working people. 

But the revolutionary bourgeoisie of the great French Rev- 
olution — without its own knowledge or will — cleared the road 
for the proletariat. For now that the obstructions which the 


bourgeoisie formerly met with had been removed and the cap- 
italist method of production could develop itself to an ever 
greater extent, the conditions were created which made it pos- 
sible for the proletariat to develop and gain strength for its 
own emancipation. 

Year after year the great mass of the population is being 
transformed into wage slaves under capitalism. And the ex- 
ploitation has opened the eyes of the proletarianized masses, 
has taught them their position in society, has shown them the 
goal which they must gain in order to effect 
their emancipation, has driven them along the roads 
leading to the goal, has accelerated the agitational and or- 
ganization work, strengthening and schooling those working 
masses, whose mission it is to put an end to their exploitation 
and thereby put an end to all exploitation, oppression and 
misery. With the French Revolution the dividing line of the 
class struggle has been removed. While formerly the capital- 
ist bourgeoisie stood on the left side of the chasm, foremost 
in the revolutionary class struggle against the old medieval 
rulers, and was supported by the lower classes who felt that 
in this struggle their interests were identical with those of the 
on-storming bourgeoisie, so now that the bourgeoisie more and 
more unites with those powers which it formerly fought, and 
the struggle shows itself to be the one between THE PROP- 

The French Revolution forms the prelude to the mighty 
class struggle of our time, 


The slavery of antiquity was superseded by medieval feu- 
dalism which in turn gave place to the capitalist system of 
production. Gradually as capitalism grew and increased in 
economic significance, its social influence grew also. Grad- 
ually it burst the trammels hampering its development, clear- 
ed away the old political and juridical relations, and construct- 
ed society in accordance with its own interests and assumed 
full power. Now we are in the midst of full-fledged CAP- 
ITALISM; capital rules over man with a power such as no 
AUTOCRATIC RUiLER ever did, and this finds its reflex in 
all social life. 

Each of these great epochs of human history denotes an ex- 
ploitation of an oppressed subject class by a ruling over-class. 
Only the forms have changed. The slaves of antiquity piled 
up wealth for the slave owners just as the medieval serfs did 
it for the seigniors and just as the personally free workingmen 
are doing it for the capitalists. Capitalism has divided society 
into two hostile groups, a small minority which owns the land, 
the buildings, the machines, the factories, raw material, and 
everything else required for the socially necessary labor, and 
an immense majority which owns absolutely nothing but its 
LABOR-POWER and which is compelled to sell that labor- 
power to the possessing class in order to exist, and forced to 
sell it for a wage just high enough to keep body and soul to- 
gether; while the great mass of values which it creates over and 
above mere means of subsistence flows into the coffers of its 
exploiters. The lash of hunger is the effective means by which 
the property-holding class forces the propertiless under the 
yoke, and the antithesis between capitalists and proletarians, 
between the exploiters and the exploitees, produces the main 
current in all public life the earth over. 

But capitalism is but a passing period in the historical de- 
velopment. Already a new social order is forcing its way 

The historical significance of capitalism has been that it 


FORCES so enormously and so rapidly as was never witness- 
ed before. New machines have made it possible to miultiply 
human productivity many times and to bring forth an amount 
of wealth unknown to the people of former days. The progress 
of the science of chemistry has enabled us to increase the fer- 
tility of the soil to an extent undreamt of, and to produce in- 
numerable useful objects through simple and easy methods^it 
has created a system of transportation which has broken down 
the barriers which formerly separated single nations, shortened 
distance, and brought the world into an ever richer and closer 
reciprocity. All this has come to be under the supremacy of the 
productive methods of capitalism. And capitalism has itself 
promoted this motion, hastened its speed and caused it to ex- 
tend over ever newer fields. Every new progress has brought 
to capitalism a new means for exploiting the workers, forcing 
them under its sway. The great promises which all technical 
progress holds out of a higher life and culture for society as a 
whole become, under capitalism, so many promissory notes 
which only Socialism can meet. That mass of inventions and 
discoveries which otherwise would serve to promote human hap- 
piness, becomes under capitalism a scourge for the great mass 

1 in society, a means for the capitalists to extract new increased 

\ profits out of the working class. 

This is the antithesis called forth by capitalist society, the 
antithesis between the interests of society on the one hand, and 
the interests of capital on the other. And as the development 
goes on this antithesis, this contradiction becomes ever more 
glaring. The anti-social character of capitalism becomes plain- 
er every day. The exploitation becomes fiercer and fiercer; 
greater and greater is the amount of labor-power and values 
wasted under this anarchistic system of capitalist production. 
The capitalist mode of production meets with more and more 
difficulties and produces more and more contradictions — the in- 
creasing army of unemployed with all its consequences is proof 
of the fact that capitalism no longer has control over the pro- 
ductive forces which it itself has awakened. It is plainly seen 
how we are rapidly approaching the time when capitalism 
MUST collapse and give way to a new order because it IS NO 


Simultaneously as capitalism faces its downfall, it creates the 
forces which must dethrone it and take the affairs of society in 
hand. The WORKING CLASS is growing in numbers and 
gaining in strength and unity, in clearness and the conscious- 
ness of its position. THE CLASS STRUGGLE BETWEEN 
more and more bitter, and is changed from a series of separate 
struggles into a struggle for supremacy in society. And in this 
struggle the working class will be the victor; every new elec- 
tion, every new review of the Socialist forces shows that the 
proletariat is marching toward victory. But when the working 
class wins, SOCIALISM will be the natural result. For Social- 
ism is nothing but the natural expression of the class interests 
of the workers. Within capitalist societj'- the workers accept 
whatever improvements they can obtain. But once they pos- 
sess the power, they will not rest contented with mere reforms, 
they will use their power to shape society according to their 
will. They will not be satisfied with merely limiting exploita- 
tion, but will abolish it; they will not be satisfied with gaining 
concessions from capital, but will put capital "out of the 
game" entirely, and in its place set up the Labor Republic. 

Then and only then can the promises offered by the age of 
capitalism be fulfilled; the tremendous productive process will 
be changed from a means of exploitation and suppression to the 
means of a higher life and culture, not as now, for a limited 
number, but for all society; all the social misery of the modern 
age will be abolished and all future exploitation will be made 

Woman Under 

By August Bebel 


Th.€ Woman Question is not a question by itself; it is a part 
of the great social problem. Proceeding along this line, Bebel's 
work is an exhaustive analysis of the economic position of 
woman in the past and present. Despite the boasts of Capi- 
talist Christianity the facts show that under Capitalism wo- 
man, especially of the working class, is degraded and dwarfed 
physically and mentally, while the word home is but a mock- 
ery. From such condition of parenthood the child is stunted 
before its birth, and the miasmas, bred from woman's economic 
slavery, rise so high that even the gilded houses of the capi- 
talist class are polluted. Under Socialism, woman, having 
economic freedom equal with man, will develop mentally and 
physically, and the mentally and physically stunted and dwarfed 
children of the capitalist system will give way to a new race. 
The blow that breaks the chains of economic slavery from 
the workingman will free woman also. 

Cloth, 400 Pages, Price $1.00 

New York Labor News Co., 


High Cost of Living 

By Arnold Petersen 



By Daniel De Leon 

An analysis of the problems of high prices, money and corre- 
lated matters. Disposes of the rarious causes usually ad- 
vanced by the apologists of capitalism to explain these prob- 
lems. A demonstration of the soundness of Marxian, i. e.. 
Socialist or Scientific Political Economy. 










The Mysteries of the People 


History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages 

A fascinatfng work, thrilling as» fiction, yet embracing 
a comprehensive history of the oppressing and oppressed 
classes from the commencement of the present era. 

These stories are nineteen in number, and their ohron- 
ological order isj the following: 

Eugene Sue wrote a romance 
which seems to have disap- 
peared in a curious fashion, 
caled "Les Mysteres du Peu- 
ple' . IL is the story of a Gallic 
fam»:y through the ages, told 
in successive episodes, and, so 
far as we have been able to 
read it, is fully as interesting 
as "The Wandering Jew" or 
"The Mysteries of Paris". The 
French edition is pretty hard 
to find, and only parts have 
been translated into English. 
We don't know the reason. On« 
medieval episode, telling of the 
struggle of the communes for 
freedom, is now translated by 
Mr. Daniel De Leon, under the 
title, "The Pilgrim's Shell" 
(New York I^bor News Co.). 
We trust the success of his ef- 
forts may be such as to lead 
him to translate the rest of the 
romanoe. it will be the first 
time the feat has been done 
in English.— N. Y. Sun. 


rilE BRASS BELL 50c 












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POCKET BIBLE, Vol. 1 $1.00 

POCKET BIBLE, Vo'. 2 $1.00 

SWORD OF HONOR, Vol. 1. .$1.00 
SWORD OF HONOR.. Vol. 2. .$1.00 

PRICE PER SET S16.00 CreTsage prepaid, 

Ne>v York T^abor News Compais ^ 



HN Bang, Gustav 

373 Crises in European history